Sling Chair Simplified
Tackle this woodwork and leather project in one weekend.
$150 - $400
IntroductionThis simple sling chair has timeless style, designed for the weekend woodworker.
- Basic woodworking tools
- Circular saw
- Table saw
- dado blade set
- leather punch
- 1" washer head screws
- 2x2 - 20 lineal feet
- 2x6 - 5 lineal feet
- Exterior wood glue
- finishing supplies
- Leather or canvas - 20-1/2" x 39"
By Curtis Rempel
Whether it’s names for my children or designs for furniture, I’m always on the lookout for something timeless. The durability, look and feel of a piece need to transcend the ages and stay relevant for lifetimes to come. That’s the goal with this chair. I also designed this project for simplicity, so you can make one without special skills or tools.
Meet the builder
If Curtis Rempel looks familiar, it may be because you’ve seen him in a music video. If you listen to much country music, you’ve certainly heard his voice; Curtis and his brother, Brad, make up the duo High Valley.
Besides music, Curtis’s passion is working with his hands — with wood, leather or just fixing things around his Nashville farm. You can check out his music at highvalleymusic.com or buy his handmade leather and wood creations at curtandmyr.co.
Wood and leather, great together
The wood frame is assembled with glue only, no nails or screws. It includes two types of interlocking joints: bridle joints and half laps. Both require a tight fit to make a chair sturdy.
You don’t have to be a veteran woodworker to make this project, but it’s not a good one for a first-timer. I used 1-1/2-in.-thick oak for this. Alternatively, you could glue 3/4-in. boards together. I finished the wood with a couple of coats of Watco Danish Oil (Natural).
Don’t let the leather put you off this project. It’s about as simple as leatherwork gets. If you have the skills to do the woodworking, you’ll have no trouble with the leather. Or, if you prefer, you can use canvas or other fabrics, which cost much less. I bought my leather for $250 at buckleguy.com.
Project step-by-step (15)
Cut the parts
This chair is made mostly of straight, simple parts you can cut on a table saw. But the two back stiles are curved.
- I first cut the straight sections with a circular saw, stopping when I reached the curved segment.
- Then I cut the curves with a jigsaw.
Sand the stiles
- Smooth out the imperfections in the first stile and then use it as a template to mark the second.
- After you’ve cut and sanded the second stile, clamp them together and sand both until they’re identical.
Cut the slots
I built a plywood box jig (8 x 14-in.) to hold the stiles upright while I cut the slots. The slots are too large to cut in a single pass with my benchtop table saw, so I set up my dado blade for 1/4-in.-wide cuts.
Cut the tenons
I cut the tenons the same way I cut the slots, taking 1/4-in. bites and adjusting the fence after each cut. This was time-consuming, but it gave me clean, tight-fitting joints.
Glue it up
- Completely assemble the whole chair without glue.
- This “dry run” might feel like a waste of time, but it’s better than discovering problems during the glue-up.
- After the dry run, go ahead and assemble the chair with glue.
Trim the tenons
I cut off the excess length with a Japanese saw, but any flush-cutting saw will work.
Rout the edges
- Sharp corners will damage the leather, so the top rail and front stretcher must be rounded.
- The other parts don’t require it, but I rounded them all with a 1/2-in. round-over bit anyway.
Clean up the round-overs
My router work was far from perfect, but smoothing out the flaws was easy with a rasp.
Sand, sand, sand ...
Perfecting the round-overs and joints took more than an hour. I began with a random orbit sander and 100-grit discs, then used 150-grit. To remove the swirls left by the sander, I sanded by hand with 150-grit.
Cut the leather
- To make the sling, cut leather to 20-1/2 x 39-in.
- Mark the leather by dragging a nail along a straightedge. That will leave a scratch line on the leather.
- Then put a fresh, sharp blade in your utility knife and cut along the scratch line.
Punch holes in the sling
- At both ends of the sling, punch screw holes 1/2-in. from the edges and about four inches apart.
- A leather punch costs about $15 online.
Fasten the sling
- Screw the sling to the undersides of the rail and stretcher using washer-head screws.
- When you’re driving screws with a drill, it’s easy for the bit to slip and damage the leather, so I drove these screws by hand.
Getting a close fit
For tight-fitting joints, I cut slots and notches first. Later, as I cut tenons, I stopped and tested the fit before adjusting the table saw fence and making the final passes using the box jig. I aimed for a slightly too-tight fit. Then when needed, I cut paper-thin shavings off the tenons with a sharp chisel.
How to choose leather
Hugh Harriss from buckleguy.com here. For this chair, I supplied Curtis with our Wickett & Craig Traditional Harness veg tanned leather in a 9-11 oz. weight. If you don’t know leather jargon, that sounds pretty confusing. Understanding these five terms will help you make a smart choice:
Thickness, or “weight,” is given in ounces, usually two ounces up to 16 ounces. Thick leather is used for items like saddles, shoe soles and belts. Thin leather is used for wallets and handbags.
Temper refers to suppleness. Leather temper can be described as firm, medium, semi-soft and soft. Stiffer leathers are best for things that have to hold their shape, like tool pouches. Softer leather is best for items that need to move and bend, like handbags.
Grain refers to the composition and appearance of the hide. Generally, the highest quality leathers are “full grain,” meaning the surface is left untouched. Others, such as top grain, genuine or bonded, are usually sanded or buffed, resulting in a smooth texture with less visible natural grain.
Color can be added in several ways. 100 percent aniline dyes are translucent, allowing the true texture to remain. Other treatments, like semi-aniline or pigment, give a more consistent surface and resist wear better, but show less grain. Finally, there’s paint, which completely hides the grain.
Tannage refers to how the leather was processed. One method is vegetable, or ‘’veg” tanning, which uses organic materials such as tree bark and tends to yield stiffer leather. It’s usually more expensive. Chrome tanning uses some nonorganic chemicals and often produces softer leather.
Meet the Expert:
Hugh Harriss is a fourth-generation leather expert in a family business that got its start by supplying English leather to U.S. shoemakers. Today, he runs a brass hardware factory and an online leather craft store. If you need leather, hardware, tools or expert advice, you’ll find it at buckleguy.com.